I don’t know about you, but I’d almost rather have a root canal than have to spend too much time in a department store fitting room. In my mind, I’m the size 4 girl who strutted around my college campus in crop tops without a care in the world. But these days, after trying several pairs of ill-fitting jeans, reality smacks me in the face. It reminds me that I am, in fact, a middle-aged woman who left the size four section two kids ago.
Although no one can actually see the size of the clothes we wear, that tiny number on the tag has the power to give some people serious anxiety. These days sizes 14 and up are considered plus-sized by industry standards. But statistics show that those standards don’t always reflect reality. According to Vogue Business, nearly 70 percent of women in the United States wear a size 14 or larger. And a study from the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, found that the average size for African American women was between 18 - 20. But you’re often hard-pressed to find a store that carries a selection of clothes in those sizes. And what’s worse, the standards have changed over time. What was considered a women’s size 12 back in 1958 is now a size 6.
According to Jessica Murphy of True Fit, a platform that helps shoppers find the correct size with different brands, designers have developed their own sets of size guidelines which can contribute to a whole lot of confusion and frustration in the fitting room.“What’s happened over time is that (brands) have evolved their sizing to represent who they believe their core customer is,” she said. “That’s why we have so much inconsistency.
In a 2018 study called “Sized Out: Women, Clothing Size, and Inequality,” Katelynn Bishop, Kjerstin Gruys and Maddie Evans took a look at how clothing size standards impact women’s daily lives. And the results confirmed that this Wild West of clothing sizes allows some women to feel great, while others are left to feel ashamed.
Here’s a quote from the study’s abstract:
“Our findings indicate that the instability of these unregulated standards allows some women—particularly those with bodies located closest to the boundaries between size categories—to claim conformity to body ideals and to access some of the associated psychological, social, and material privileges. However, even as individual women may benefit by distancing themselves from stigmatized size categories, this pattern renders women’s body acceptance tenuous while simultaneously reinforcing hierarchies among women based on body size and shape.”
These days, I prefer to order my clothes online and try them on at home. That way, at least I don’t have to do the tearful walk of shame back to the front of the store when nothing fits.